Chef Beverly Kim’s new nonprofit The Abundance Setting provides meal relief using local, healthy ingredients as well as education, networking, and mentorship opportunities for aspiring working mom chefs.
This past year has been a year of reflection for many of us, including James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Beverly Kim. She co-owns Parachute and Wherewithall in Chicago with her husband Johnny Clark. The couple is raising three boys, all under 10. Kim has long recognized how difficult it is for working moms in restaurants, especially women of color, to balance their family and career.
“I walked a mile to and from work in the kitchens at Whole Foods until I was 10 days overdue,” she says. “I think I made $11 an hour at the time and it just wasn’t enough to pay for babysitters. Once you hit motherhood, people just assume that your career is over because women have always shouldered that responsibility.”
When their restaurants were closed for more than two months last year, Kim was inspired to found a nonprofit, The Abundance Setting, with her mentor Sarah Stegner, also a James Beard winner and owner of Prairie Grass Cafe. Their mission? Supporting the advancement of working mothers in the culinary and hospitality industries to have a sustainable career while maintaining a quality of life at home. So far they have raised around $17,000 from private donors and are offering a three-month pilot program with three working mom chefs – Stegner, Kim, and Debbie Gold of Found – mentoring three women striving to make it as chefs in Chicago. They’re dropping off three family dinners weekly for their mentees and developing a sisterhood to build community and empower women with access to resources like subsidized childcare that allow them to continue working.
“It’s extremely difficult to manage both [motherhood and a restaurant career] so you just end up giving up,” Kim says. “Everything is going against you. Even as a chef de cuisine at Aria, I worked from 11 am to 11 pm. All my money for work went to childcare and rent. I didn’t save any money. You work so hard and there’s nothing left for you.”
More than half of culinary school graduates are women, but they make up only 19 percent of chefs and head cooks. Further, women occupy less than seven percent of executive chef positions. The long hours, late nights, and weekend hours make it so challenging for women chefs to continue their careers, effectively pushing them out of the industry.
“I got here by sheer will but it was through a lot of suffering,” Kim says. “I want my bad experiences to turn into something that’s fruitful.” The Abundance Setting may be in its infancy now, but Kim is passionate about changing restaurant culture on a national level to be more sustainable for moms and her diverse advisory board reflects a multitude of voices from Chicago’s culinary community. “This is not just a Chicago problem,” she says. “It’s an international problem. A lot of times as a mom and a cook, I felt so alone. And that’s why a lot of people give up. There’s not systemic support for working mothers. There’s a lot of government advocacy to be done, but there are also things we can do as a restaurant industry to be more accepting and flexible.”